How Do You Like Your Superman- Red Trunks or No Trunks?

By: Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool,

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Superman action figures.JPG

Burning in the hearts of all men is a question of monumental importance- Superman: Red Trunks or No Trunks? 

So, maybe this isn't the most important question ever asked but the comic book, movie, and pop culture community seems to be divided between whether or not Superman's tights should showing.  Let When It Was Cool examine why it both matters and doesn't matter.


1) It Doesn't Matter: It's Simply a Design Choice

It doesn't really matter.  People seem to argue about the functionality of wearing shorts over the tights.  They say it makes no sense so get rid of it.  It's a distraction.  But none of that matters.  Superman was designed in the 1930's when both the circus and professional wrestling were very popular and this was the costume of both.  It's no more complicated or complex than the red shorts break up all that blue and gives the iconic costume more of a flare.  It's no more complicated than "it just keeps the costume from being too much of one color."  It's a design choice pure and simple and if you're reading more than that into it then you are over thinking it.

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2) It Does Matter:  Let Me Remind You of the 1980s

On the heels of the inexplicable success of my two articles on 1980s fashions- Tight Rolled Pants and Parachute Pants, the 1980s also had another trend that directly relates to this discussion on the leg wear of Superman.  I take you to a conversation circa 1984. I am a young chap of 13 years old and I notice that the upper class-men at school are now wearing shorts over their sweat pants.  I kind of like the look because, well, Superman.  But  I wonder why this is a trend that has suddenly taken off.  So, I make the dumb mistake of actually asking one of them, why do you wear your shorts over your sweat pants and was promptly told- "SO MY D**K DOESN'T SHOW, MORON!"  Superman really was a genius.

Superman through the ages.jpeg

3)  It Doesn't Matter:  Superman's Outfit Changes Every Generation

For better or worse every generation wants to update Superman's costume to make it more modern.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it is an abysmal failure.  No matter if you like the red shorts or not either choice is 1000 times better than the ridiculous Superman Red/Blue fiasco of the 1990s.  Since the 1930s, Superman's outfit goes through often minor changes.  The shield on Superman's chest has changed many times.  The blue of the costume has often changed shades.  The length and flow of the cape is often adjusted.  Here in the 20-teens because of the movies, the trend is to make the suit look "techy" or "functional" when, in all reality, the design of the suit was intended just to look cool.  In ten more years everyone will look back at this era and go, yeah, that kind of sucks just make Superman look cool. ( Ditto: Captain America, etc)


4)  It Does Matter:  Superman is Iconic.  Leave it Alone.

Superman is a national treasure.  He really is.  His story is a story of inspiration.  It is a story about how one person can have all the power in the world and still choose to do the right thing.  Superman is the story of an immigrant from another world, an alien if you will, who through good character and a moral compass changes the world for the better. 

His look and design is all secondary to that but it is still important.  When you look at the bright colors they inspire you with hope and optimism.  Superman is NOT supposed to look dark and brooding and that is where the modern Warner Brother movies have totally missed the mark. 

Superman is not supposed to be realistic.  He is supposed to be bigger and better and inspire hope and admiration.  He is an ideal.  He was designed by Jewish immigrants as a symbol in the face of a growing world menace.  Shorts or no shorts isn't all that important in the overall scheme of things as long as Superman maintains his status as a symbol of the best we are capable of.  A symbol of doing the right thing with power.  And, shorts or no shorts, creators and directors need to steer Superman back on course to being that symbol.

Christopher Reeves Superman.JPG


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